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TURKEY: Government defends Chinese Uighur minority

July 14, 2009 |  7:17 am

Turkey-uighur When Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan criticized Israel’s actions in Gaza, he was aligning himself with his fellow Muslims.

Now he’s picking up the standard of the Uighurs in northwest China.

The Uighurs, who like  the Turks are an ethically Turkic and Sunni Muslim people, are the focus of riots in Xinjiang Province, sparking tensions with both the Chinese government and members of the Han Chinese ethnic group.

In response to ethnic violence as a result of the riots, Erdogan didn’t mince words: “These incidents in China are as if they are genocide…. We ask the Chinese government not to remain a spectator to these incidents. There is clearly a savagery here.”

The Turks have rushed to the defense of the Uighurs, while the Iranian government has remained silent, even alleging that the Uighurs were acting at the behest of the U.S. 

Iran has fashioned itself as a leader of Muslims worldwide, but the unrest following the Iranian elections may be keeping the government silent.

Erdogan may also be trying to shore up relations with other Turkic states in central Asia. A new pipeline project, which will connect Europe to Turkey, could be connected to Central Asian energy sources.

Turkey will also likely host Uighur dissident Rebiya Kadeer, who is in exile in the United States. Kadeer was been denied a visa earlier, but Erdogan intervened to grant her entry into Turkey.

While Erdogan is ratcheting up the diplomatic pressure, the Turkish Trade and Industry minister suggested a boycott of Chinese goods: “The demonstrations are not sufficient alone. There must be a boycott of the Chinese products.”

Today the Chinese government dismissed Erdogan’s comments in the state-owned China daily. The editorial added: “Mr. Erdogan's remarks, which constitute interference in China's internal affairs, are the last thing the Uygur and Han Chinese would find helpful when they are looking forward to lasting peace.”

— Jahd Khalil in Beirut

Photo: A young ethnic Uighur girl holds a toddler in Urumqi, Xinjiang Province, China. Credit: Diego Azubel / EPA